1. Soodanim
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    Soodanim Member

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    Does subject matter... matter?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Soodanim, Dec 24, 2012.

    Before I present the topic of this post I will first say that I will not be engaging in further discussion on the issue and will not present my personal opinions on it. I do this because it seems that I've already upset people here with my personal views and do not wish to further upset anyone.

    I am, however, unfortunately cursed with extreme curiosity and an insatiable desire to ask contentious questions. I find the results enlightening and informative and so I have a genuine interest in the responses.

    Now to the topic.

    I was just on another forum and saw a YouTube trailer of a movie that has gained almost cult-status through internet exposure. It raised a question that I often ponder the merits of both for and against. I won't post the link to the video because it will probably violate the code of conduct here because of its extreme content.

    The trailer in question is of a movie called, "God Bless America."

    This trailer reminded me of comedians such as George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and even Mel Brooks. They all tended towards a 'shocking' level of gratuity, violence, or farce in their comedy. Carlin in particular is known for his jokes about swear words and rape.

    This once again made me wonder if the subject matter of one's writing and the content that is expressed is of any consequence. Is it all just fiction and therefore fair game or is there some level of moral responsibility towards the reader to self-govern and edit ones material in accordance with social mores?

    The reason I post this query here is because I'm particularly interested in the response from writers. I've posted this same question on other forums over the years but they were for other interests and hobbies so my reasoning for posting it here is to get a response specifically from writers as it pertains to their, and others, writing.
     
  2. Jon Deavers
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    Jon Deavers Member

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    It probably reminds you of the great comedians because it was written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. He may or may not be a great comedian, but his career started in the same era as Carlin, Murphy, Pryor, and Brooks. I tried to watch the movie once and the dialog was so horrible I had to give it up 20 minutes in.

    When a writer writes, he/she is making a statement. That statement should never be censored by anyone. That is a basic tenet of freedom. In my opinion, the question should be more focused on the responsibility of the writer to defend that statement. If they are making shock for shock's sake then their defense won't hold up and the art ultimately fails. If they can present a strong argument for what they are saying then, whether I agree with it or not, they have every right to make that statement.

    Which leads me to a question. Why post a topic and then "drop the mic and step away" assuming your opinions are not welcome? The statement above should also apply to a legitimate sharing of ideas. If you are not willing to weigh in on the question with your own opinion it seems to me that your motivation is conflicted.
     
  3. Soodanim
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    Soodanim Member

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    I feel that I have already explained this adequately.
     
  4. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    Oatmeal is inoffensive.

    Censoring oneself for fear of being controversial is simply a method of avoiding the crux of any matter. After all, the well-trodden path is not where one finds controversy. Controversy is found at crossroads.

    Get in the thick of things, speak your mind, and devil take the hindmost, that's what I say. The faint of heart should stick to writing jingles or something.
     
  5. Cerebral
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    Cerebral Active Member

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    I don't get where you're going with this...what's your point? To find out if writers like to be censored? Or if writers should limit themselves in some way? Who on earth writes without having something to convey? Who wants to say something and won't out of a sense of duty?

    And as for the trailer...look at the comments. The video I just saw had well over a million views and mostly positive comments (except for the losers arguing with each other). So how exactly does the movie concept challenge social mores?

    Soodanim, you may think writers have to "self-govern" and conform to social mores, but if you can't define what those mores are, then you're making no sense. The only time I'd tell someone to censor him or herself is if it's a life threatening kind of thing.
     
  6. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    It isn't what you write about, but how you write about it that matters.

    Bah. Forget about that. Speak your mind!
     
  7. Soodanim
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    Soodanim Member

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    No. You might hurt me with your words.
     
  8. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    :yawn:
     
  9. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Probably. I do like to sharpen my wit.
     
  10. Cerebral
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    Cerebral Active Member

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    Agreed...what a silly thread...
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Reminder: If you respond in a disrespectful way, you will be in just as much trouble with the mods as someone who posts the bait. If you find he thread silly, don't feed the person looking for reactions.

    Or you can take the thread at face value and ignore the chum.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i do censor myself in re what i write, because i am a non-violence activist and thus will not use violence to entertain...
     
  13. Cerebral
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    Cerebral Active Member

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    I don't know if that would count as censoring yourself...you're just avoiding writing about violent stuff. You're still saying (I'm assuming) what you want to say, and not saying what you don't want to say. That's different from believing in and wanting to write about violence, but not doing so because you think it will offend/corrupt someone.

    Also, to the OP, does a writer (or anyone else, for that matter) have no moral responsibility to tell people what he/she thinks is right, regardless of what the "social mores" are?
    I'll keep that in mind. Just a quick note, though: these strict rules in the very general sections of the forum are a bit extreme. I can understand their use in the Writing Workshop section, but all these rules do here is create a forum where everyone agrees with each other, or act like they do. It prevents interesting conversations...all you have here are boring threads that have all been covered 20 times. Sometimes people learn by arguing.

    I understand that I don't have to like this forum and that I can leave if I don't like it. I'm just saying that some more emotion on this forum might make it a lot more appealing. I'm not trying to be a wise guy, by the way. This is a legitimate concern.
     
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  14. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Morals are flexible. They change with time, location and culture. You are free, (at least in the US) to write about anything you want, no matter how grotesque, immoral or 'extreme' it may be. However, I think you would be surprised to find that there isn't a whole lot of 'extreme' left and if you look hard enough, you will find anything and everything.

    Extreme sexuality is pornography and is easy to find.
    Extreme violence is all over the place as well, and just as easy to find.
    Blasphemy, incest, rape, etc... It's all out there and people will buy it if it's good.
     
  15. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Wouldn't censoring yourself mean that you want to write violence but refrain due to worries about moral objection ? Not wanting to write it in the first place isnt really censorship.
     
  16. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    'Entertain' is a funny thing. Just because your writing contains violence, doesn't mean you condone it. In fact, many stories highlight the perils of violence, or greed or selfishness. I just think saying that the content of your writing means you support the content is wrong.

    I can write a story about slavery, doesn't mean I am pro-slavery.
     
  17. tmrose
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    tmrose Member

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    I generally find that book authors are subject to a different level of scrutiny than other forms of media, and it's something that I've been thinking about a lot. For instance, if a rape scene happens in a movie, there are usually big signs to say "This is rape." However, as is the case with Cutting for Stone, rape scenes can be romanticized consequence free in literature. As in, there's a question in the mind of the reader if the event was rape at all. Literature helps us to see new perspectives, and largely influenced the way I looked at the world. But I'll tell you it lead me down a few wrong paths in the past.

    I'm unsure of how I feel about the topic, but I do feel there are conversations that should be had about the influence of literature on social perspectives. Magazines had much less effect on me with respect to body image than the size six, blond, blue eyed descriptions of the Sweet Valley Twins.
     
  18. johann77
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    johann77 Member

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    That can be done through showing or telling. Depends on whats best.
     
  19. Cerebral
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    Cerebral Active Member

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    That's a good point. But if someone were to try to avoid anything that might have some kind of sociological/psychological effect, that someone would just end up writing nothing. At least, that's what I think...

    Huh?
     
  20. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    The idea of a bunch of writers debating whether "subject matter matters" is silly.

    If the story doesn't matter, why bother writing it?

    And if it does matter, why bother posting this sort of thread?

    Smells like garbage, to me.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Subject matter may merely be a canvas upon which to expose the real content. For example, Orwell's Animal Farm has nothing to do with talking farm animals. The obvious subject matter is only facade for the underlying scathing commentary.

    In other cases, the subject matter is unimportant, other than providing a frameworks for exposing characters. This is why there can be so many "Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back" stories, and readers will still eat them up.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    but not wanting to 'corrupt' the impressionable and corruptible is why i don't... i'm fully capable of writing extremely violent stuff, as witness the very creative violence featured in my first screenplay, 'sons of adam' [which i abandoned along with all my 'old life' writings and my old way of life]...

    so, yes, i do consider it 'censoring' myself... but not out of fear of offending, just so as to not add to the corrupting influence that i feel is so prevalent in all forms of entertainment today, which includes fiction writing...

    i hope none of you will turn this thread into a debate on violence in entertainment... as my only intent is to answer the question posed by the op in re my own self-censorship, i will not respond to any further questioning of my answer or motives... don't want to get in dutch with our mods! :eek:
     
  23. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    The fact that Orwell uses allegory to make his point doesn't means that the allegory is itself the subject. The subject matter of Animal Farm is politics, not animal husbandry.
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Subject matter takes place on more than one level. By stripping off the surface layer and declaring it irrelevant is an implicit way way of saying (an aspect of) subject matter doesn't matter.

    Animal Farm's allegory is pretty close to the surface. In other works of fiction, it isn't quite as naked. The surface story may be a thrilling adventure whereas the real story could be something like self-discovery, savagery cloaked behind the veneer of civilization, etc.

    Back to the original question, do we have a responsibility, as writers, to gentilify our writing to be inoffensive to readers? I say no. Pablum is easily digestible mush, but makes a poor total diet. There is room for comfortable fiction, but fiction is also a medium for a good swift kick in the complacent posterior of the people. Shock and disturbing ideas can be powerful tools.

    But shocking words and imagery are often used merely to attract readers, to titillate baser desires. We need not be whores to drooling voyeurs and trill seekers, either. We are the masters of language, if anyone is. We can and should us language purposefully, to communicate with surgical precision.

    That is our obligation.
     
  25. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    All fair points. One of the pleasures I get from reading a well-crafted story is peeling the layers away, and seeing how things like theme and motif survive and inform the different levels of the story. And I certainly agree with you that a writer ought not remove his edges without very good reason.
     

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